Monthly Archives: July 2011

Don’t grade students

Can business schools stop giving people marks from A-F or 0-100 please. Just give them pass or fail, so they are prepared for real life.

One of the things I completely abhor, is business students fresh out of school with grandiose plans but poor execution combined with a loser attitude. The mindset seems to be that “it doesn’t matter if I have a big night and consequently turn in shit work the next day, as I will do some better work downstream”.

Unfortunately real life doesn’t work like that.

  • You do shit work – the client fires you. Pass / Fail.
  • If clients fire you because of your work – I will fire you. Pass/Fail
  • You get caught slightly over the limit – you lose your licence. Pass / Fail

There is no grading in real life!

Failure is important. You have got to own it, learn from it and move on. But you should never simply accept it. Franz Madlener built Villa & Hut with the personal ethos “Never, Never, Never give up”.

When I trained to be an Army Officer, you were trained to never give up and allow yourself to fail, until you had explored every opportunity for success or even partial success. And it doesn’t matter how outrageous or how difficult, stressful or personally uncomfortable it is for you. Because everyone depends on each other, when you fail, you bring others down like dominoes.

A couple of years ago I shifted offices. The delivery truck was supposed to arrive at midday, arrived at 8pm, and demanded cash payment before he unloaded rather than the agreed cheque. I had to scrounge up money from more than one personal bank account (because of daily withdrawal limits), then unload the truck and create a couple of usable workspaces so that staff could start working the next day. I finished at 1 am. This isn’t a story of me acting heroically, its a story of not accepting failure, exploring options and preventing the removalists failure from affecting my staff.

Why am I ranting? Because this week I had someone fail on me, plus they didn’t advise me of the failure until I inquired. They accepted the failure and said “it would never happen again”. But what I wanted was them to have the mindset of not accepting failure. Especially as I could think up at least three options that they could have taken, to mitigate their failure.

Real Life doesn’t give you a B-, it fails you and it doesn’t care.

Ignoring your emails

Everyday I ignore your emails.

Everyday I receive around 100 emails to my newsletter mailbox. I sign up for anything that takes my fancy, but mostly around technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, but occasionally around personal interests such as kayaking and food. At the end of the workday, I browse the newsletter mailbox fairly quickly, to see if anything that has come in that interests me.

Because there is a lot of emails,with a lot of overlap in content, I only read the Subject line, before moving on. So which of these email’s do you think I read?

Sourcebottle Alert 25 July 2011

ScienceAlert-Latest Stories


Turbo-charge your team’s performance, Another clean tech collapse, HIA warns on contractor crackdown, Aconex and Baillieu family in court fight

Obvious isn’t it. Note the second one is from Smartcompany!

So here’s some tips…

  1. You don’t need to have the sender name in the subject line, because almost everyone configures their email client to show who the email is from.
  2. You don’t need to have the date in the subject line, because almost everyone configures their email client to show the date of the email.
  3. You don’t need to have volume, issue no. etc in the subject line, because the only person that cares is you, and you’re not the audience!
  4. You need to have a catchy headline about why I should read the content as my attention span is short and you have lot of competition.

So really, don’t put lots of effort into constructing your content if you are going to bugger up the execution. You’re wasting lots of your time, but almost none of mine.

saving your job with data visualisation

Most Churchill Club events start with an idea, something I have noticed that then sits in the back of my head weeks, months or years until I understand how it “fits” as a good event.

An example of this is data visualisation, or the way that complexity is being represented as an accessible visual medium. Occasionally I get flicked funny bits and pieces such as a pie chart which represents how much of a pie chart looks like a Pac Man (possibly the funniest pie chart joke ever) however there is a lot more serious use going on. For example:

Information Maps – Such as the roadmap of trends and technology from NowAndNext

Displaying Data – Such as this wonderful display of scientific evidence for popular health supplements from Information is Beautiful.

Displaying Concepts – Such as this representation of Capitalism from Speldwright.

Interpreting Data – Such as this image on understanding how the sexes perceive colours by GraphJam

Displaying Connections – such as this representation of word usage and flow in poetry.

And this is just the start. Word clouds are now common place and most blogging software has components that can automatically generate them for you. There is also some great merging of domains such as this execution of psychology, cartooning and animation by RSA Animate and Dan Pink on Youtube.

In this new world of data visualisation there are no rules – just a marrying of analytical insight and creativity.

Technological advances have allowed this to happen, with some fabulous tools online for data visualisation as well as in packages. One of my favourite tools is VUE from Tufts University. I regularly use it for mapping out my thoughts.

But what is the driver? I think its an impact of globalisation & technology. If you are a white collar worker doing routine work, you know you are pretty much going to be losing your job at some stage to either a low labour cost country, or your job will be automated. However what is now happening is that the automation trend is creeping up higher the ladder and in many places expert systems and automation are unexpectedly replacing “professional” jobs. Machines such as the Autorefractor will replace your average Optometrist, 3D printing will replace some engineering jobs and tools for automatically building websites are now legion.

The only defence against losing your job is to start innovating, start being creative. I think this is the major driver in the interest of data visualisation as well as interest in topics such as design thinking as a business tool. Perhaps the Churchill Club event isn’t on data visualisation, perhaps its actually about the rape & pillage of ideas and methodologies from the design world.

Bloody Promotional Pens!

I got given a pack of promotional pens the other day from one of my clients. 50% of them disintegrated on use. I had a friend sit in my lounge last Friday, pull out a promotional pen he had been given a week before to find it had run out of ink.

Everybody knows this story. Promotional pens are mostly crap! Don’t buy them as you are just wasting money because they:

1. Never work well.

2. Consequently damage your brand.

3. Normally get thrown in the bin within a week.

Just because websites such as Alibaba have come on online and allow virtually anyone to become a supplier of promotional items, doesn’t mean you should buy cheap rubbish.

I have in my possession a mechanical pencil that was given to me when I joined a German company called Vossloh-Schwabe around 20 years ago. The pencil has an octagonal profile, was machined from aluminium and as is anodised black. You could punch holes in bricks with it – admittedly I am not sure why you would want to do this, but it sounds cool.

The point is that you keep quality promotional products for a long time. Cheap t-shirts get used as rags, quality t-shirts get worn until they die. Cheap folios and bags get thrown out the same day, expensive ones get used for years. Cheap backpacks go in the bin, quality units get used for storage of my kayaking gear on top of the bookcase in my study. And as already mentioned – cheap pens don’t last a week and just irritate everyone.

Next time you sign off on a marketing spend, don’t get seduced by large quantities of cheap promotional products. Its the same as throwing money in the bin. Buy less, buy quality.

The friend who sat in my lounge also relayed a disturbing story. He sat at a round table with a group of ten local CEOs a week before. They were each given a pad of paper and a promotional pen to take notes with. Not a pen at the table actually worked. They, the group of CEOs, discussed the matter and ridiculed the company supplying the promotional pens. Not a desired outcome!